Bok and Activists Reach Standoff on Divestment
In an hour-long meeting before spring break, President Derek C. Bok and student divestment activists agreed to disagree on the University's investment policy toward South Africa.
Bok met with four members of the Undergraduate Council's ad hoc committee on divestment for approximately 50 minutes on March 23 to discuss the University's long- criticized investments in firms which do business in South Africa.
Bok said he had not been swayed, or impressed, by the undergraduates' presentation.
"I would be willing to consider any arguments the committee chooses to make," Bok said in response to written questions submitted by The Crimson. "[But] I was not persuaded by what the committee said at our meeting, which is not surprising since the committee seemed to be unaware of what I had written on the subject," including a letter on divestment he wrote three years ago to the council.
Despite the lack of agreement, Randall S. Jeffrey '91, who is the committee chair, said the meeting had improved communication between the parties.
"It was productive, I got a better sense of what his arguments were," Jeffrey said. "It was good for me to find out what Bok is thinking about this issue on an individual level."
Students said that they were disappointed by Bok's cool reception of their ideas.
"During our conversation with him, he noticed that we had [a petition]," said Jeffrey. "He said even if we had 6000 signatures it wouldn't matter because he wanted arguments."
The undergraduates argued at the meeting that they thought that the divestment question had been thoroughly debated on intellectual grounds and that further discussion should bebased upon moral judgments. But Bok disagreed.
"I believe that moral judgments requirerational arguments," Bok said. "I would considerit quite wrong and probably illegal to makeimportant decisions involving Harvard's financeson the basis of 'non-rational' judgments."
"[Bok's] basic argument was that divestmentwon't have any effect on South Africa and all thatwill happen is that Harvard will lose money,"Jeffrey said. "There wasn't enough moraljustification for selling the stocks in thecompany that Harvard does invest in."
Jeffrey said the student committee might nowtake a different approach to trying to convincethe administration to change its policy.
"What I'm planning to do is have the ad hoccommittee come up with a report as soon aspossible," Jeffrey said.
Since the meeting, Harvard Corporation's 1990midyear report on Shareholder Responsibility hasrevealed that the University's investments inSouth Africa have increased $30 million to a totalof more than $168 million